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Thursday | 09 March, 2017 | 3:25 pm

Hurricane help

By Colin Linneweber

Eastern Metal Supply helps customers weather any storm with its protective building products and systems

March 2017 - Florida, surrounded by warm waters in the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean, has endured more hurricanes and tropical storms than any other state in America. However, over the past quarter century, no storm ravaged the Sunshine State like Hurricane Andrew and its 160 mph winds did in August 1992. Hurricane Andrew caused 65 fatalities and insurance claims payout totaled $15.5 billion at the time, according to the National Hurricane Center and the Insurance Information Institute, respectively. 

Roughly a decade before Andrew lay down a path of destruction, Susie Walsh, Greg Weekes and Glen Magaldi founded a company for the distribution of custom and standard aluminum extrusions and sheet products called Eastern Metal Supply (EMS) in Boca Raton, Florida. In 1986, EMS moved to Lake Worth, Florida. Today, the company also offers machining and fabricating services and is nationally recognized for their hurricane protection systems. 

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EMS’ hurricane protection systems include storm panels, accordions, bahamas, colonials and roll shutters.

Mike Brown performs marketing and sales functions at EMS, promoting new products and applications. Brown, who joined the company in 2000, discussed EMS’ history and its locations and subsidiaries that service North, Central and South America and the Caribbean islands.

“Eastern Metal Supply had humble beginnings in 1982 with three partners and five employees in one small location,” says Brown. “Now we have over 675 employees and we will soon have 10 stocking locations for aluminum extrusions and sheet products that, when combined, cover more than 1 million square feet of distribution and manufacturing space. We also have numerous fabrication centers that we are rapidly expanding.”

Due to the vision of EMS’ founders, “who believed they could do all that others could do, but a little better and without being encumbered by a lot of big company philosophies, rules and regulations,” he says, “you cannot go many places, especially throughout Florida, and find an aluminum fabricator who is not familiar with EMS.”

Although EMS serves chiefly as a full-line aluminum service center with hundreds of products and a great variety of metal processing services, “any supplier of hurricane protection is a potential customer for us,” says Brown.

Niche market

To wit, its array of hurricane and storm protection systems include storm panels, accordions, bahamas, colonials and roll shutters. EMS expanded its line of prefabricated shutters and multiple styles and options are available within its line.

“We have been in the business of supplying components to manufacturers of hurricane protection for many years,” says Brown. “We often develop and test the products. Initially, this was not done to sell finished goods, but instead to provide the extruded aluminum components we had designed to a multitude of smaller hurricane protection manufacturers that fabricate, assemble and install our raw materials.”

EMS invests “hundreds of thousands of dollars in engineering, testing, tooling and inventory. This investment saves our diversified customer base that expense and it opens up the market for many small manufacturers to participate and grow in a market that would have been beyond their reach,” he says.  

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EMS fabricating and assembling services help customers cut costs, reduce downtime and augment productivity.

Dawn of a specialty

EMS began prefabricating and assembling hurricane and storm protection systems out of necessity. This started out with customer-specific requests post-recession. “Many of our customers were forced to downsize and decrease manufacturing operations during the recession and they turned to us for help in order to simply stay solvent and have a product to sell,” says Brown. “Consequently, EMS began prefabricating and assembling hurricane and storm protection systems. Certainly, our customers can still buy the raw material components required to assemble items on their own. But if they want first-stage fabrication done, we can do that.”

EMS fabricating and assembling services have also helped customers cut costs, reduce downtime and augment productivity. As demand has slowly rebounded, Brown cites all the small shops that EMS’ distribution network has helped flourish and expand. Brown claims the company has helped transform quite a few startups into full-fledged profitable organizations. “Much of this has occurred because EMS provided the pre-engineered components needed to start.

“We have engineered, tested, prototyped and inventoried raw materials so the risk to try to fabricate or assemble a product is very low,” which means “our customers can stick their toes in the water before taking a full plunge,” Brown continues. “Sure, they’ll pay a few more pennies buying raw materials from us than they would if they bought raw materials directly from a mill. But they would never have been able to get into the market had they been forced to finance all of the things I just mentioned. 

“It has been amazing to watch some of our customers grow into multimillion-dollar enterprises after starting out in a shed somewhere,” Brown says.

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Avoiding errors

Thirty-five years of distribution experience has led EMS to stock a diverse range of inventories that typically approaches 24 million pounds. EMS’ technical expertise and market knowledge allow them to match customer needs to extrusion capabilities to provide the right shape and size every time.

“It is truly sad to see a fabricator go out and build tooling thinking they can save a couple of bucks only to find out their shapes don’t fit properly, or can’t be produced, in the desired temper because the fabricator’s inexperience led them make a less-than-perfect choice on a supplier,” says Brown.

A distributor like EMS can guide many of their customers toward prominence. Brown hopes customers’ successes under such guidance will keep the company ahead of its peers.

“Our two owners, Susie Walsh and Greg Weekes, who are still active in the business, create an atmosphere that encourages creativity and entrepreneurship at every level,” says Brown, while adding that the company has acquired multiple other manufacturing companies over the past decade. “Their vision allows EMS to continue to grow and attract talented employees and great customers.” Accordingly, EMS contributes to local communities, provides a healthy work environment and supplies customers with high-quality aluminum products. MM

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